Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sooth End Birding: Birding round "Da Ness"

So the 21st of September, the day before I'd been in Unst and now I'm heading down to the South of Shetland for some more birding!

Last night (20th) a talk was done by Malcie Smith on "Where on Earth do our Phalaropes go?" and "Larking in Ethiopia", the first talk was on the study to where the Fetlar Red-necked Phalaropes migrate to, it was first presumed off the coast of the Middle East but from the study with geolocaters then it was found to be off the coast of Peru with the North American Population.
The Second talk was mainly about the "Liben Lark" a critically endagered lark in southern Ethiopia which only numbers around 250 birds and they future doesn't look so good for them.

Now you might wonder, how did I get down? very generously of them, Malcie Smith and Martha Devine (one of the co-founders of the Shetland RSPB Youth Volunteers, a teenage nature group) gave me a run down to the talk, we also twitched my Sea Kale along the way.

The talks were very good and I managed to speak to some of the Shetland birders while I was there, I was speaking to Dave Okill and he asked if I wanted to come down "Da Ness" tomorrow (the South Mainland), so I said yes, hoping for a few birds while we were down.
The Bird Club also had a few old reports going for sale, I got the '08 and '09 to my collection with only two 90's to go!
Glen Tyler gave me a run back to Sound and that was a bit from the Bird Club Talk.

Dave came around at 9:10 the next morning and we set off south, I dropped Glen a text asking him where the Arctic Warbler (found yesterday) was, he got back to me with the "Barclay Arms" Dave knew exactly where to go so we were straight there.
Dave and I searched the trees, catching sight of a couple of Blackcaps but no Arctic Warbler, we spent a good half an hour searching but the best birds were six Swallows.
We carried on south from here, checking in a Boddam and seeing 150+ Golden Plovers, 7 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Teal and a Little Stint.

Golden Plover

Dunlin and Little Stint

Dave and I carried down to Virkie and we managed to speak to Rob Fray who was out and about, we asked if there was anything about and he said that the Red-backed Shrike was at Hestingott yesterday, by the playpark and there wasn't any sign of the Red-breasted Fly at Sumburgh Farm so after a few minutes of speaking we went for the Shrike.
Dave then got a call so we pulled over, after he'd finished he'd said that there was a Hoopoe up at Veensgarth, Tingwall.
It was a bit much to head up there for one bird so we decided to head after we'd searched around the South.
We found the playpark and we headed over to check out some bushes, there was a couple of Willow Warblers after a few minutes but nothing else.
Dave got me to go round and check out the other side of the bushes, so I did and there was the Shrike! Mainland/year tick! I got a shot and waved over Dave.
He got a look and I slowly moved closer getting more photos, the bird wasn't wary at all and was great for photos!


A nice start to the day

 This photo is know the cover photo for the Nature In Shetland Facebook Page

We left the bird after I'd gotten my shots and headed to the Sumburgh Hotel next, the first thing that took me was a group of ten birders.
Leading them was one of Hugh's Wildlife Group Leaders, Judd, we pulled alongside and asked what the birds were.
There'd been a Little Bunting and a single Yellow-browed Warbler among a field for of crop but nothing else, we told Judd about the Shrike and the Hoopoe.
So we parted and Dave and I rummaged around the Hotel Bushes before making our way to the farm.
A bird caught my eye among some nettles and it was actually running in the nettles!
After me getting distracted bird which turned out to be a Song Thrush (year tick), I finally flushed the bird which turned out to be a Redwing (first of the Autumn).
The actual part of the farm was next and we came to a stone sheep cru, Dave got his eyes on a bird and it flew off, I moved a bit to the left and got my bins on it. It was a Red-breasted Flycatcher! A lifer and no.217! It flew off and the two of us searched the rest of the area before coming back to the same spot and watching the bird for a brief few seconds over a couple of minutes, I even managed a few record shots.

The Red-breasted Fly! missing its red breast but it was still a beauty

Our next spot was Sumburgh Head, we met Martin Heubeck up there and he told me to come in and get the '94 bird report when we'd finished having a look around.
So the way it went was Dave was on look out and I was searching through the bushes, anything that was flushed, Dave would see.
A few times around we pulled out two Barred Warblers and a Willow Warbler but Dave had, had something "different" so we went around the head hunting for it.
I only managed to pluck up a Skylark and a Kestrel before we decided to head inside and have a chat with Martin.
Half an hour later, three cups of Coffee and a bird report later we were back outside trying to find the "mystery bird" I got the same birds again running the bushes but a Common Redstart flew up and I shouted it to Dave.
I did it one last time and then I went up to him, he said that was his bird, he'd only caught a flash of orange but he wasn't sure what it was.
The Pool of Virkie was finally low enough that we could see some Waders! we managed to spot 70 Redshanks, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Oystercatcher.
Gary Bell was also around so we spoke to him, he'd just started and hadn't got anything but he'd heard the Pallid Harrier was flying south past Fleck so we had a look around the nearby parks but nothing.
One of our final sites for the day was Hillwell, the duck numbers were pretty good with 180 Wigeon, 120+ Teal, Moorhen, Tufted Ducks and Mallards.

 The Wigeon Flock 180 strong

Our last stop in the South was the Loch of Spiggie the first birds we had were a Swallow and the Spiggie Whooper Swans which totaled an impressive 7 birds (2 Adults and 5 juveniles!) but other birds included three other Whoopers, four Mute Swans and my first two Slavonian Grebes of the year! one in summer plumage and the other winter.

Our final stop for the day was Veensgarth, we spent twenty minutes looking for the Hoopoe but with no luck, Dennis Coutts also came from Lerwick but I don't think he got it either.

So Dave ran me to Girlsta and that ended out birding.

Now this is probably my last blog post until I get back from Tenerife (I'm leaving today), I still have my blog post from my trip to Fair Isle in August so there is still a bit to go....

Twa Yell Men in Unst

On the 20th of September (2014) I left Mid Yell at 8:20 with Jim Nangle (of Cullivoe) to head to Unst for a bit of birding.
We'd planned for this trip a week before so it was good to get out for some proper birding after a quiet summer (for me).

We headed north on the 8:40 to Unst and had our first stop in Uyeasound, we got out at the Gardiesfauld Hostel and had a rummage among the bushes.
Between us we managed to turn up two Barred Warblers (my first on Unst) and maybe a third but we were debating whether it was one of the same birds, also a flock of 25 Twite flew over and nine Tufted Ducks.
The next stop for us was the Haroldswick Pools (quite good this spring for rarities), the north end of Baltasound had a good flock of 85+ Curlews which deserve a mention.
The Snipe numbers there were pretty good I would say, 30+ from what we flushed (and that might of been a small proportion of what was actually lurking around) but also we had 40 Golden Plovers, 1 Swallow, 1 Garden Warbler (Unst Tick), 1 female Blackcap, a party of House Sparrows and a couple of Alba Wags.
We also met Rob Brookes who was out, he hadn't had much though but still it was early and there was birds to be found!

Kestrel by the Saxa Vord Camp Site, the second of the day following one at Basta Voe, Yell.

The northerly Skaw was next and we managed to pull up four Sanderlings, a Bar-tailed Godwit (Unst Tick), a couple of Willow Warblers, a male Blackcap, a Kestrel and I spotted a Common Whitethroat which disappered before we could find it again.

Female Dunter (Eider) against the incoming surf

 Sleepy Sanderling

The Unst Sea Kale, 2nd for Shetland and looking a bit worse for wear (found over a month ago by Barbra Priest)

A comparison with my hand

Norwick was our next destination, we managed to get a Kestrel before getting out the car by the beach. There was a few Sanderlings knocking around (2) and a quick look in a nearby garden pulled up our first Robin of the Autumn, two Willow Warbs and a Chiffchaff.
We decided to have a comb around a nearby rig and four Chaffinches flew up into some nearby Firs (another first of the Autumn).
Jim decided we should have a check at Valyie (the garden which the 2012 Red-eyed Vireo inhabited, Shetland's first).
It had a couple of birds but this was only early on! there was a Goldcrest (first of the Autumn), a Blackcap, a Willow Warb and a couple of Blackbirds.
We'd got all the nearby places and so we decided to head to Burrafirth in hope of a Little Bunting seen an hour ago by Brydon Thomason and Mike Pennington but to no luck so Halligarth was next.

 Four Chaffinches sitting it a tree

Goldcrest! year tick!

AT Halligarth we were on the hunt for a Rustic Bunting, it had been knocking around Halligarth for over a month but a look through the small garden was to no avail! so Jim took me to the leeward side of the woodland and there were lots of warblers! Gardens, Yellow-broweds (Year Tick), Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.
We watched them for a good few minutes but they were too fast for any photos, there is also a pool 100 metres south of Halligarth and there we pulled up a few Tufted Ducks.
So really that was the end of our day, we popped into Westing before the 1:45 ferry but that pulled up nothing so we headed back to Yell after a ok days birding.

Give it to the end of October and we'll be back! hopefully scoring more birds as we do

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Red-necked Phalarope, Utra Scrape 08/08/2014

I thought I would do a mini blog post on what could be classed as my first self found rarity here on Fair Isle.

I'd just come back from the Observatory after seeing my first Greenish Warbler of the year which had been trapped at the Plantation and I thought I'd have a quick check of the Utra Scrape for any Waders.
I cycled down the road until I got to Utra and then I walked out to the Scrape, arriving at 11:40.
I had a few glimpses of the area before I started to crawl (I'm cautious) to a spot where I could see the whole Scrape.
I saw a bird swimming around and my camera was quickly raised, I took a few distant shots and I had a look, it looked like a Phalarope.... but it couldn't  be a Phalarope. Could it?

The first shot of my Phalarope rarity (in Fair Isle terms).

Zoomed fully but easy to see

I took a few more shots and I started to half crawl/half crouch my way forward to get a closer look.
Us birders can be called strange or a few anyway but some people go to lengths to see their birds.
I stopped and I rattled off a few more photos of the bird and I was certain that it was a Phalarope, now time to eliminate the three species.

1st of all, Wilson's Phalarope.. seen the bird in the book and the colours were all wrong, so that one was out.

2nd. Grey Phalarope, not the right colours and pattern... that's gone as well.

3rd and final Phalarope, the Red-necked, breeds on Fetlar (Shetland) and they have just left their breeding grounds... the pattern and colour fitted that of a juvenile (from the Collins Guide as I remember, but I didn't have it on me!).

So finally I decided that this was a Red-necked Phalarope.... year tick and an island tick. I wasn't sure how rare it was but it had to be good right? I put out the call and Ciaran came (on census) over a style on the opposite side of the the Scrape about 40 metres off. I thought to myself... Wait.... he won't see the bird from that side, he might flush it!!
So first thought in mind without shouting, waving my arms frantically to get his attention, it worked and he gave the Scrape a wide berth.
I got up and half ran to meet him, straight away I told him that I had a Red-necked Phalarope on the Scrape, we both turned and we could just see the bird bobbing around.
Ciaran got it and said that it was a juvenile! and even a British tick for him! he got straight on the phone to David and I got on to Quoy.
Triona picked up and I told her that I had a Red-necked Phalarope at the Utra Scrape and she went off to tell Stewart and Dad.

The Phalarope, its actually sitting still for once!

So now we just waited, David came running and we put him into the bird.
Within ten minutes the Obs van had showed up, partially full and a few people came out to see the bird, Stewart and Dad from Quoy came as well with Brian and his son Alan (Houll), Nick and Elizabeth (Schoolton) and that was it (for now).
Everybody got good looks at the bird as it fed on flies and swam about, people came and went and a few from the Obs (four at least with another one coming later.

I wasn't the last to leave but I was hungry so I headed back to Quoy for denner and afterwards I headed straight out to go video the Phalarope and maybe get some better shots.
When I arrived I saw that three people were watching the Phalarope, Glen Tyler and a couple who'd come in on a yacht.
I went up to them and I joined in with the mini-twitch, everyone was having great views and I went and got some video and pics with Glen joining me afterwards.

Still for a split second before it starts off again

As you can see food is in no short supply

The Utra Scrape, Waders Love it, Phalaropes Love it, Birders Love it

One of the few times it was out of water

A video of the Phalarope

My final photo of the Red-necked Phalarope, maybe even the last anybody took of it on Fair Isle

I watched this Phalarope for long enough to see some of its behaviour, it would frantically go about catching flies (I presume) for over 15 minutes and then it would find a hidden spot and it would sit, resting, preening itself for five minutes before starting the cycle again and it did this about three times.

I did have some video but due to problems with uploading it, it's not going to be with the post at the moment.

At least a total of 16 people had a look at the Phalarope during its short stay of roughly 4 hours but Tommy and Henry missed it by a mere hour as they were just coming back from America!

My last sighting of the bird was at 14:40 and I haven't heard of anyone else seeing it but under an hour later Ciaran went and there was no sign.

This Red-necked Phalarope consisted of the 23rd record of the species on Fair Isle, with a total of only 25 birds and the first sighting since 2005 seeing them here can be a bit tricky.

In terms of rare-ness, this bird was the rarest of the Autumn on Fair Isle (and it still is by early September!), well if you exclude the Swinhoe's Petrel which made its last appearance on the 1st.

Friday, 12 September 2014


A quick one on a Bar-tailed Godwit that's been knocking around the Linkshouse Beach (Mid Yell) for the past three days, Just a couple of shots.

 I first found it while off on a small boat with a friend, a managed to get a record shot then

If I mind right this is my first on Yell

Preening itself

Note upward curving bill which differs from the Black-tailed Godwit which has a thick straight bill
(and pattern and other things of course)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Surprise Tick: Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler

Having just read the most recent update on the Fair Isle Bird Observatory blog, I discovered that a Subalpine Wabler I had seen on Fair Isle in May turned out to be a Moltoni's instead of a Western!
Having there only been five (ish) records of the Subspecie it came as a surprise that I had seen one!

Now I've been able to see three (subspecies) of Subalpine Warbler.
Thanks to the magic of DNA testing!